'Hunter' targets scam sites in S'pore, even before they can trick people

The Online Cybersquat Hunter which has only been deployed for six months led to the detection of a fake ICA site and a subsequent public advisory in February. PHOTO: ICA

SINGAPORE - Scammers have been creating fake websites made to look like those belonging to the Singapore authorities, tricking victims into divulging their personal information.

In the past, many of these sites were flagged only after the victims had done so.

But now, these sites are being actively hunted by a sentinel, built to screen half a million registered sites each day.

The Online Cybersquat Hunter (OCH), developed by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX), was deployed just six months ago.

Using artificial intelligence with image and text analytics, it is able to pick up fake sites as soon as they are being registered, and before they can be used to trick potential victims.

Dr Terence Tan, deputy director of the Q Team Centre of Expertise at HTX, said it had worked with inputs from the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) Security Operations Centre and Singapore Police Force to develop the OCH and test it rigorously for efficiency and effectiveness.

He said: "Similar to a cat-and-mouse game, the setting up of fake websites and their takedown are ever evolving at breakneck speeds.

"So it comes down to beating (the scammers) at their own game as we keep stepping ours up."

Last year, the number of non-banking-related phishing scams increased to 644 cases, from 49 in 2019.

Dr Tan said the OCH aims to thwart such phishing attacks by automatically detecting sites used by the scammers, searching sites containing domain names similar to those of public service websites, and those containing logos of interest and key words.

The OCH was rapidly developed in just one month, and is currently focused on scanning for fake websites targeting the MHA and its affiliated organisations.

It is also being trialled for sites targeting some key local banks and online delivery services.

An example of its success was the detection of a fake Immigration and Checkpoints Authority site, leading to an ICA advisory to the public in February.

Dr Tan believes there is tremendous potential for the OCH, which may be a key tool for law enforcement in the fight against scams.

"Our technology becomes more sophisticated and better at delivering outcomes as we understand more about these websites through information gathering," he said.

"As our algorithm improves, our outcomes will increase exponentially as well."

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